It’s not often that the world bestows upon us a fantastic film by one of our favorite directors that has heretofore been buried by time and dust. The Amusement Park, by George Romero represents of of those rare moments. Allegedly, this film was commissioned by the Lutheran Service Society of Western Pennsylvania for the purpose of revealing the hidden struggles of the elderly in modern society. As with everything that Romero touched in the 70’s he attacked this subject with deep and profound social commentary. At the time, the Lutheran Service Society wasn’t in the market for an art film, so they shelved it for being far heavier than they had ever imagined.
For decades, many considered the film lost forever, but in 2017 a print was discovered and restored.
Romero taps Lincoln Maazel for the lead
For many the name Lincoln Maazel doesn’t turn heads. During his very long life of 106 years, he earned only two film credits. Both of these were at the hands of George Romero. The Amusement Park would be his first. He would again work with George Romero in the 1978 vampire classic Martin as the the world weary grandfather Cuda. In that film he would utter one powerful word, “Nosferatu”, before putting a bloody exclamation point on one of George Romero’s most chilling endings.
In The Amusement Park Lincoln puts on a much more nuanced role as an elderly man suffering at the hands of the world at a local amusement park. The amusement park serves as a running metaphor for the challenges faced by an aging society. George Romero makes absolutely clear that society fails to value the lives of the elderly. Clocking in at just over 53 minutes, Romero gets right to business of crafting his societal analogy.
A man in an all white suit in an all white room
Romero begins the film with a brief monologue from Lincoln, undoubtedly at the direction of the film’s investors. Lincoln Maazel eloquently describes the plight of the elderly. He finishes by politely reminding the viewer that they too will one day be old.
Romero then cuts to a white room with a beaten, bandaged and exhausted Lincoln Maazel resting on a bench. He wears a suit of all white that’s soiled in dirt and blood. Just then, a glowing and pristine version of himself arrives on the scene to engage in conversation. The whole scene reminds me a bit of when John Hammond engages in discourse with himself on the stage at Jurassic Park. Romero likely intended this to represent the innocence of his lead as he prepares for an idyllic day at the park. The downtrodden man warns his fresh faced doppelganger of terrors of the outside world, but his words come upon deaf ears.
Fresh and clean, Lincoln Maazel sets off to enjoy a day at the amusement park.
Disorienting and Cruel
George Romero’s first shot across the bow of society depicts a line of elderly people wanting to buy tickets to enjoy a day at the park. They bring watches, rings and family heirlooms to the ticket-master in hopes of trading their treasures for a day fun. In all too familiar circumstances, the young man plunders their wealth right before their eyes as they beg for a few dollars more.
One of the best scenes occurs in the bumper car pavilion. An elderly man and woman drive circles in the bumper car pit as the camera bounces around creating feelings of confusion. Just then, none other than George Romero himself makes a left handed signal before making a right handed turn causing an accident. As lawyers, insurance men and police descend on the scene, they bombard the couple with prejudice born of their status as senior citizens. Lincoln Maazel bears witness to the event, but the police dismiss him for failure to wear his prescribed eyeglasses. The whole scene would be absurd in any other context, but somehow Romero makes his analogy work.
George Romero also makes it a point to call out that old age doesn’t affect us all the same. The elderly business man smoking a fat cigar lives high on life while the elderly dregs of society pillage for scraps.
Romeo refuses to spare the young from metaphor. When a young pair of lovers employ the services of a fortune teller they are greeted with images of their inevitable descent into the pains of being elderly and infirm. Now an old woman, she pleads with doctors for sympathy as her husband deteriorates in his bed, stricken with dementia. The doctors can’t be bothered as they dole out off-the-shelf meds to their easy customers. Eventually, the young couple recoil in horror to the visions of their future.
Romero continues to ratchet up the madness ever so brilliantly until Lincoln Maazel runs in terror to the white room where it all began. Once again, bandaged and exhausted. Again, a brand new version of himself arrives in the white room, ready to start the cycle again as if to describes the daily grind of the elderly in modern society.
Brilliant Execution from a Master Architect
Certainly The Amusement Park fails to achieve the lofty heights of some of Romero’s best films. But, it’s not a question of quality. In fact, this may be one of George Romero’s most inspired works. Amazingly, Romero recycles the amusement park metaphor over and over without it getting stale. While this movie isn’t a horror movie, as a PSA it certainly has plenty of horrifying moments. Using masterful camera movement, George Romero makes the most basic of scenes wholly disorienting and unsettling. All the while, Romero evokes strong feeling of sympathy.
Long lost, this film fills an important void in the progression of George Romero. He proves conclusively that his ability to create horrifying art-work transcends the shambling walking dead. Quite frankly, Romero’s execution not only delivers on the original intent of the commissioned film, but does so in a way that resonates deeply with the young people that it seeks to change. It’s nearly impossible not to superimpose the images of our mothers, fathers and grandparents on the characters in the amusement park.
George Romero delivered one of the most compelling public service messages in the history of mass communication. What the Lutheran Service Society of Western Pennsylvania held in their hands was a piece of persuasive art far beyond what they could have ever hoped for. Unfortunately, art lies in the eyes of the beholders, and they were unable to realize the eloquent message so crafted by the director. Instead of confronting the socio-economic oppression that plagues the elderly, Romero’s films sat on a shelf collecting dust.
The Amusement Park may not be every horror buffs cup of tea, but it is essential viewing for anyone delving into the storied careers of master George Romero.
The Amusement Park (1973) - A Hidden Romero Gem - Malevolent Dark
Director: George Romero
Date Created: 1976-01-01 00:00